How TO Help the Hurting

Mental pain is less dramatic than physical pain, but it is more common and also more hard to bear. The frequent attempt to conceal mental pain increases the burden: it is easier to say “My tooth is aching” than to say “My heart is broken”.  ~ C.S. Lewis

Before listening, before doing anything or saying anything to the hurting person, we have the task of keeping our own attitudes in check.

We won’t always understand another person’s struggle. We won’t always agree with their choices. And we certainly aren’t called to be their fixers. If our approach to the hurting person is to fix them, we’re likely to do harm, however well intended. God heals. We’re just here to lighten the load.

A few things to try;

  • Listen – Listen without assumption. Listen like you’ve never heard or experienced anything like this before so that you really hear what’s being said, not what you expect to hear.

*Caveat – Not everyone wants to talk. And even if they do, you may not be the person they choose to share with. There’s a difference between being an attentive listener and going in with a crowbar.

  • Touch – Sometimes a touch on the arm, holding a hand or a hug conveys caring in a way that words can’t.

*Caveat – Some people don’t like to be touched. It’s not up to you to decide that what they need is a good hug. If a person stiffens or pulls away from your touch, honor their physical space without disconnecting emotionally.

  • Pray – If you have a shared faith, you may want to pray out loud with them.

*Caveat – If the individual doesn’t share your belief system, praying can be construed as preaching. Your lips don’t have to move for God to hear your heart.

  • Act – Look for practical ways to lighten the load. Give a gift a certificate for a pizza, do yard work, run an errand etc…

*Caveat – We often say, Please call me if you need anything and almost no one does. If you know there is a need (and the need isn’t always for yet another casserole) assist or enlist another to assist when you can’t. Don’t expect the hurting person to ask. That said, it’s important to be certain that the hurting person is OK with your help. Honor their boundaries.

Above all, remember that it takes immense courage to be vulnerable. When someone trusts you enough to truly let you in, tread softly because you will, without a doubt, be leaving footprints.

Author: Debbie

A former counselor and public speaker, I'm grateful for many, many things - God's grace most of all!

24 thoughts on “How TO Help the Hurting”

  1. We’ve been re-reading Antoine de Saint-Exupery’s “The Little Prince”, and we came across this gem.
    The prince was devastated; he was choking and sobbing. The writer fumbled for words, then he tells us, “I did not know what to say to him. I felt awkward and blundering. I did not know how I could reach him, where I could overtake him and go on hand in hand with him once more.
    It is such a secret place, the land of tears.”

    1. dearest Ian –
      We seem to have very similar tastes.
      What a beautiful excerpt from “The Little Prince”.
      It is a secret and scared place, the land of tears.
      Thank you, Ian.

  2. *Caveat – We often say, Please call me if you need anything and almost no one does. If you know there is a need (and the need isn’t always for yet another casserole) assist or enlist another to assist when you can’t. Don’t expect the hurting person to ask. That said, it’s important to be certain that the hurting person is OK with your help. Honor their boundaries.

  3. Wow Debbie…. there is so much in your post. It was timely for me to read because today, I visited a dear family member who has a major illness that may be fatal. They are losing physical ability and need a lot of help, but they do not ask. Your point about the hurting person not usually asking is a very valid one. When I was hurting and in need, I was very reluctant to ask for help…. of course until I was at absolute bottom…. but short of that, I just could not bring myself to it. I agree, unless we are totally boundary-busting, we ought more often to simply help rather than say, “call me if you need anything”.

    1. Hello Chaz –
      I was just thinking about you. Funny that, huh?
      How heart breaking it must be to see the health of your loved one slipping away. I’m so very sorry.
      Although I’m loath to ask for help, I finally see it my personal weakness
      It’s always so much easier for me to be on the other side of the desk.
      Thank you for writing and sharing your heart, Chaz. I always value your insights.

  4. Good words, Debbie. And I have to tell you that when someone says to call if I need anything, I immediately toss out their words–surely some people are sincere, but the reason many say this is because, as you stated, almost no one DOES call, and they’re off the hook. What would really be helpful is if people would be specific about what kind of help they can provide. Ex, “If you need a ride to the store, I’m available at (such and such) hours”. When we say, “call if you need Anything”–we clearly do not mean “anything”–so it’s more likely someone will take us up on the offer, if we’ve said what we mean, defined the limits of our generosity. God bless y’all BIG–love, sis Caddo

    1. Howdy Caddo!
      Oh, so very true, my friend.
      We are guilty of freely offering what we have no intention of delivering (deeds, prayers, emotional support etc…)
      Being specific in what we offer (like do you need a ride?) is great both because it helps us define our own boundaries and when the hurting person hears a specified offer, they’re more likely to take it seriously. And, in turn, they’re more likely to accept.
      Great point, Caddo! Thank you for adding your wisdom!

    1. Hello KT!
      In this post, and the last one on what NOT to say/do, I realize I sound so didactic.
      It’s just a blog, so everything here clearly is just my opinion.
      I feel as if I should have that disclaimer on every post – jmo! 😀

  5. I so loved all of this, gracious one, and that last sentence really grabbed me. Thank you! Also I really am listening to the fact that we can’t fix any one . . .that we shouldn’t go into helping someone with that thought in mind.
    love and prayers and long distance hugs!

    1. Debbie –
      Thank you, kind friend.
      I fear we often underestimate the power of our actions.
      Even more, we greatly underestimate the impact our words have on others.
      Stepping lightly takes a good deal of grace!
      The fixing thing is hard, isn’t it?
      We so want to help which I think often leads us to confuse being a vessel with being the potter.

    1. PJ
      Thank you.
      You’re quite right – understanding another human being is a mystery!
      My guess is that we understand others far less well than we think we do.

  6. I found that when some people ask if there is anything they can do, they don’t really mean it. At least I came across that when I actually needed help and tried to take a couple people up on their offer. I won’t offer physical help (yard, shopping, cooking, etc.) unless I actually know I can do it. I loved your words, “Your lips don’t have to move for God to hear your heart.” Just beautiful. I have a friend in desperate need for a job. I’ve gotten her a couple of interviews that didn’t pan out. Since then she has been very upset. I told her that I wish I could do something more to help. She said to pray. So I am. Thank you for the lovely advice, Miss Debbie.

    1. Dear Lori –
      Oh my! Well, then, yes that’s quite another problem isn’t it?
      How sad that you were brave enough to reach back to those who reached out only to, in essence, call their bluff.
      You’re absolutely right, we should never offer what we have no intention of delivering. Even offering to pray for someone is often used as an exit line, rather than a promise to fulfill.
      by praying often for your friend, you’re giving her a great gift!
      Thank you for your openness, Lori. I always learn from you.

  7. Thanks Debbie for a challenging reminder. You have it absolutely right, We know it; we just find it difficult to practice.
    “Listen like you’ve never heard or experienced anything like this before….” Beautifully put. And so true, because of course, we haven’t.
    The caveats are particularly helpful. They tell us, “This is helpful, but…” They remind us that there is no one-size-fits-all approach. Thanks Debbie

    1. Thank you, Ian.
      I’m convinced that most of us are only about 2/3’s present (and that may be overly generous) when someone else is talking. Even when that person is sharing a great pain or struggle, our focus easily shifts to blaming or problem solving or just thinking about what we would like to say when they ‘finally stop talking.’
      And you’re right, sometimes there’s quite a gap between what we “know” in theory, and what we practice in reality.
      Thank you for your open heart, Ian. I would so love to hear you preach!

  8. Great post Debbie, as usual filled with words of wisdom. I’m truly thankful you are here to minister to the hearts and minds of so many. I truly believe you have touched many hearts in your ministry here…most definitely you have touched mine.

    Sending a HUGE hug your way sis. 🙂
    God bless

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